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Ohio State students unearth the past in Italy

As part the university’s agreement with the University of Pisa, Ohio State students have the opportunity to study at the Field School in Medieval Archaeology and Bioarchaeology at Badia Pozzeveri. Located in Lucca, Italy, the field school features an immersive academic program designed to train students in archaeological and bioarcheological field and laboratory methods. Badia Pozzeveri is the site of a monastery that was situated along the Via Francigena, a major trade and pilgrimage route running from France to Rome. The excavation of the site began in 2011, and Ohio State undergraduate and graduate students have been there from the start. 

The site’s location along the Via Francigena will allow students to literally unearth insights about pilgrimage dynamics and medieval trade, as well as the intricacies of monastic life. According to the field school, “the only visible portion of the abbey is the church, while the remains of the monastery—chapter house, scriptorium, cloister, cell, kitchens, dining hall—are buried in the [surrounding] soil,” providing students with a great deal of ground to cover. 

Not only do students get the chance to excavate what remains of this medieval abbey, they have the rare opportunity to uncover the monastery’s cemetery, studying who was buried there and how, and placing these funerary practices in cultural and historical context. “This means we will be able to conduct research with experts in local archaeology from the initial excavation phases to the complete analysis of human skeletal remains, benefitting from extremely detailed information on the archaeological context,” said Giuseppe Vercellotti, an instructor for the program and an archaeologist from Ohio State. “I see this collaboration as an incredible opportunity for producing high-level bioarchaeological research on a region of the world that, in spite of its historical importance, is extremely underrepresented in the literature.” 

In July 2012, 30 archaeologists, students and faculty from around the world worked at Badia Pozzeveri. The field school program allows students to benefit not only from this experiential learning, but from the knowledge of their fellow excavators as well. “Through hands-on participation in the excavation, our students have the rare opportunity to learn all aspects of a bioarchaeological project by working side-by-side with international experts in the discipline,” said Vercellotti. “On a more personal level, the participation in the field school allows our students to experience life in a different country and to create long-lasting relationships with colleagues from other countries.” 

This opportunity may be a once-in-a lifetime chance for those who travel to Lucca, but many Ohio State undergraduate and graduate students will have that chance. According to Vercellotti, the university’s agreement with the University of Pisa will “allow us to offer a field school in Italy for years to come.”